In the 90's I was a cross country hang glider pilot. My idea of summertime fun was to drive to the biggest mountains I could, and my favorites were 8,000' or higher. I would set up my hang glider and put on my snowmobile suit, walk my hang glider to the edge of a cliff, imagine what the wind and thermals were doing and then run off the mountain testing my skill and knowledge of the air that I couldn't see. It would be 90 degrees on the ground standing there wrestling the glider in the invisible hot wind, sweating, nervous, heightened senses, sometimes a little afraid of what was going to happen in the next few minutes or even seconds. I would fly off into thermals that I would have to imagine that they were there using all of my visual clues, my knowledge of the flow of the air, circling in that thermal up and up, sometimes more than 1,500' per minute. The air temperature drops 7 degrees every thousand feet as you ascend so if I remained in that thermal for 10 minutes, you do the math, it was freezing and the wind chill at the base of the clouds at 17,000' was skin burning cold.
What does this have to do with fishing?
I'm trying to catch things I can't see.
You can't see the air, but it acts like water. I used my fishing and surfing to understand what it was that I could not see. My experiences watching the flow of water, I took to my soaring and that imagination is what I am going to discuss here in this article about fishing.
About this same time in my life, I was doing all of this cross-country soaring, my friends were dying in accidents. Most of them were better at hang gliding than I was. They took risks or didn't follow a methodical approach toward safe practices. Flying was optional, landing was mandatory and when you go to so many funerals of friends you practice the same sport with, for me it was a wakeup call, was my time coming soon?
I knew I was going to quit, and I wanted to pass my time much like I did hang gliding, alone, way out in the wild and that's when I dove straight into fly fishing small streams.
I applied and was accepted at an Orvis fly shop where I would work for a few hours after my day job. I was working at a local hospital in anesthesia, and I didn't need the money. I wanted to surround myself with experts in fly fishing and that is exactly what I did. I focused on small streams because that was the environment that went deep into the forest, often near the top of the mountain and at the time, there was not a lot of interest in this type of fly fishing so I would be alone or with a friend and could concentrate on becoming very good at fly fishing small streams.
I began to fish with experienced fly fishermen, most were older and had lots of time on the water. But the best teacher that I had was a young man of 18, he was a phenomenon. No one could catch like he could. He was the whole package too. Professional fly tyer tying dozens and dozens of flys, selling them and he also worked at the fly shop that I did, and he fly fished streams, rivers, lakes and the sea. We began to fish together quite a bit and it was an odd arrangement, I was twice his age, and I was following him around.
He didn't do what everyone else did. He looked methodically at each situation and crafted his own answer and succeeded every time. We would go to a river where a good fly fisherman might catch a dozen fish in a day and he would make bets on catching fish on the first cast. In all that I do, when learning a new skill, I surround myself with the best and then I learn from them and that's what happened knowing this young man. Pretty soon I was catching almost as many fish as he was and on a couple of occasions, I caught more. He would just smile and talk to me and learn from what I was doing. I told him. Knowledge was passed back and forth, and we both increased in our skills, he in small increments and me in huge leaps and bounds because I was learning so much more.
We were using 1-weight fly rods. The lightest lines you could buy at the time and fishing for sub-surface trout. Dylan would sometimes not use an indicator, "I'm learning..." and he would look over at me with a smile as he lifted a hyper wiggly wild trout from deep in the forest. I took to indicator fishing quickly, it was like cane pole fishing that I did as a child, bobber and all. Later I would go fishing with him in the Colorado River above Lees Ferry. We used indicators there too, but I would always remember casting a single egg with a small split shot with my ultra-light spinning rod letting it tic tic tic along the bottom for trout when I was younger. Super effective, I loved that technique, but I just couldn't get it with the fly line, the drag free drift was too hard without the indicator.
At the same river, we began to experiment with line color. We would compare line color and the effect on the fish count. It was drastic. Red and orange lines were less effective, more noticeable to the trout. At that time, I was writing content for my small stream fly fishing web site, and I had even written a article on "Fly Line Color Fun" Much like the article I am writing here, I was chronicling my progress at the time.
Throughout my time fly fishing, and now the last fourteen years of only practicing tenkara, I have been working on removing the indicator and I have finally gotten to that place, and it feels great. Magic for me, but when I fish with other talented fishers, I do about the same while they are using a color line and or an indicator.
Clear lines are a progression for me, they are what I do in order for me to learn new skills.
I would not suggest them for you. But since you have gotten this far, I'll continue.
At my favorite rivers, fishing Honryu tenkara, I use a 5m rod with a 7m clear line and .5m tippet for' about 40' of maximum reach. With a size #22 hook, and 20/20 vision, the fly or kebari is nearly lost once it leaves my hand. I lose sight of the line just beyond a rod length in most lighting conditions.
Every cast is blind!
But it isn't. I have imagination and knowledge of what is going on. I know what the water is doing, even though I cannot see it clearly. I know how it acts from my study of it. I can see evidence of the river bottom from my vantage point of looking down at where I am standing. I know if there are cobblestone sized rocks, there is a rolling turbulence at the bottom that the trout are hovering above and can dip down into at places where the current is to their advantage. I know if there are larger rocks that they can hold behind and or in front of riding the pressure wave, holding place to look for concentrated food in the flow. If I can see the fish, they usually indicate that my imagination is correct.
I'm looking for evidence to correlate past experiences when fishing new areas.
Everything about my rod is known. I'm experienced with using it for many many hours. Same rod, same length line, same size fly, same cast, same same.
I'm using a methodical approach towards my fishing and the clear line is augmenting the tactility in my approach. This methodical approach starts with my feet, and it moves out to the fly. I'll move to a spot that is advantageous to the area that I am searching for fish. I'll get comfortable where I am standing and typically, I am parallel to the flow of the water or slightly angled up or down stream depending on the "fan shape" of my search pattern. I'll cast and then rotate at the hips as I tight line drift or sasoi (move the fly) with the flow. Pick up, rotate back, cast, rotate, pick up, rotate back and cast again.
I am a machine, a computer analyzing anything different and learning yet not thinking.
I've got the visuals down to where I can imagine them in my mind, now I want to increase the feel in the system and the way for me to do that is to use the same system every time but remove the color so that it removes the vision.
That's the point. I know what the water is doing, I know where the fish are and how they are behaving, I know how my fishing rod and line works, now I want to increase the feel for what I cannot see. The way that I do that is to balance the visuals to a point where tactility is promoted. Yes, I still indicate the trout taking my fly. I'm fishing, it's what I do.
With my clear line system, I substitute the line color with the natural environment. Before anything indicating on my rod and line, I am looking at the fish I am casting to if I can see it. The white wink of its mouth opening to take the fly, the subtle turn of its body, the movement of its shadow below on the bottom, the silver arrow of its body shortening, I'm looking for visual clues that are not indicated by my fishing line or fly.
Often, I use water droplets on the drape of the line, I watch the droplets for movement. I watch the drape of the line for straightening, I watch the meniscus if I can see it where I imagine the line is entering into the water. I will watch the lillian as I rotate for any movement down.
I use nature, what is already there to indicate the take.
Setting the line on a long history of success, knowing what is happening now that has happened before causes me to tighten the line by lifting the rod to drive home the tiny hook.
The purpose of this article is to describe what I'm doing, not what I'm thinking, I already know what is going on, I'm just creating more opportunities for my senses to realize to set the hook to catch the fish.
Now when I am fishing Honryu, I often feel my #22 hook ticking along the bottom, 30' away, two feet below the surface of the water. I can feel the ticking stop and sometimes even feel the lightening and then increasing pressure which triggers my arm to lift the rod. I'm not thinking, it's happening, and my body is anticipating and reacting without thinking.
Using a clear line is just another step in my tenkara journey.
I no longer want to catch every fish in the stream, I don't need to, nor do I want to. The method of tenkara has already increased my catch rate. Now when I fish, I enjoy what I am doing and it is such a surprise to catch fish on a system I can't see, I am learning more and more to increase my catch by feel.
I use a clear line to increase the sensation of feel.
I imagine most of the fish that I catch, yes, I do sight cast to quite a few of my catch but in a large river, most of the fish that I catch, I can't see.
I still have the ability to feel the take and that is the point of the hook.
The more you know, the less you need.